Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman

The Red GardenThe Red Garden by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Red Garden is a collection of loosely connected short stories. The connections come primarily through the setting, Blackwell, which is a small town in rural Massachusetts once known as Bearsville. A few characters show up in multiple stories, but for the most part each story moves years forward so the characters from one are now either dead, missing, or old enough to be living through their memories. I love Alice Hoffman's writing style. This book, like the others I've read (The Third Angel and The River King) is best described as magic realism. That's a term that has been used in many ways, but in Hoffman's case I intend it to mean a set of circumstances that begin with a realistic feel but sometimes branch off in interesting ways. The Red Garden has a garden where everything planted in it turns red. It also has a number of bears who have unusual relationships with some of the humans. It has a young, female spirit known as the Apparition. And of course it has characters who know things others don't. These are just some of the examples where Hoffman steps away from the world's definition of reality and into her own.

I prefer Hoffman's books, such as The River King, where characters remain in the story longer. With this collect I felt as if I was starting over again with each new tale. I didn't realize that would be the case when I began reading the book. I enjoyed the latter stories more than the earlier ones because by that time I understood where Hoffman was going.

The Monster of Blackwell was one of my favorites in the collection. It's Hoffman's version of the Beauty and the Beast story. In this case an ugly, misfit young man comes to the woods outside Blackwell. Children in the town catch glimpses of this man and label him a monster. But when Kate Partridge, a teenaged camp counselor, has a group of children in the woods this monster saves one of them from a bear. (Bears are constantly appearing in all the stories.) Kate falls in love with this man despite their different backgrounds.

The stories are a mix of heartbreak and happiness. This is my third Alice Hoffman book and I intend to read more.

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